With a Love of Music: Careers and Beyond

Nicholai Joaquin ’04
Kathryn Schulmeister ’07
Robert Feng ’14

The Music School hosted its first-ever alumni panel event in January, highlighting the personal stories of three alumni who have built rewarding careers in the music industry. The evening program, entitled “With a Love of Music: Careers and Beyond,” featured Nicholai Joaquin ’04, creative producer and arts administrator; Kathryn Schulmeister ’07, performer, educator, researcher and Grammy Award nominated recording artist; and Robert Feng ’14, performer, librettist and entrepreneur. 

“The inspiration for the evening came from the ongoing long-term relationships the alumni have developed and maintained with their Music School teachers,” says Helen Chao-Casano, Music School Director. “Over the holidays, many alumni come back to town and reach out to their former teachers to say hello and to catch up. We thought it would be a great opportunity to bring some of them together to speak to current students that are interested in learning more about careers in music.”

The conversation, moderated by Chao-Casano, focused on the transformative life skills that can be gained by studying and making music. The panelists also shared their reflections on creative fulfillment and perspectives on their individual life journeys. “Music programs offer all the tools that are necessary to become a successful performer, including technique, music theory, music history and even audition strategy,” says Joaquin. “But what they don’t teach you, is that there are infinite ways to enjoy a fulfilling life in the arts – and not all of them revolve around performance.”

As an opera student at New York University, Joaquin thought that a singing career was his only professional option. “But when I started applying for internships at some of Manhattan’s major performing arts institutions, I realized how expansive the possibilities were,” he recalls. “There were roles in production, marketing, public relations, development, as well as arts education and outreach.” 

After years of gaining experience in diverse fields, Joaquin rose to director of Artistic Operations at The New York Pops orchestra, producing concerts with some of the icons who inspired him to join the industry in the first place: Stephen Sondheim, Alan Menken, Renée Fleming, Queen Latifah and Cyndi Lauper, to name a few.

“I would never have had those life-changing moments if I had kept a narrow mindset about my life in the arts. And I feel a strong responsibility to share whatever information and resources I have with others who are interested in joining this community.”

The three panelists also shared experiences as students at the Music School. They recalled the formative performance and study opportunities they had at Punahou – and how those experiences enriched their passion for music. 

An audience of over 30 students, parents, faculty and staff were in attendance. The panelists encouraged the music students to continue to work hard, learn how to collaborate, listen to their intuition, and to trust themselves; no matter what field they choose to pursue. It was clear from the panelists’ personal reflections that they have all been able to take their love of music and create meaningful and impactful careers. The event also highlighted how music has built a sense of belonging, community, and understanding across generations of students.

“The feedback we are getting has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Chao-Casano. “The students say they found the event inspiring and informative and we certainly hope to do something like this again in the future.”

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